Thursday, December 24, 2020

Operations - It's in the Details

I've been chatting with Ronald J Hall, one of the editors (along with Robert Wuchert, Jr) of three volumes of Memories of the New Haven, published in 1985-6. These are excellent books, that collect a series of stories and information from such sources as Along the Line, which was a New Haven Railroad periodical. 

The entire series of Along the Line is available online at UCONN digital collections here as I've mentioned before.

Anyway, he's been sending a number of articles he's transcribed or scanned, and this is one of them. 

While the story itself is great, I'm always looking for sources from the era that clarify things, particularly about operations. Any publication by the railroad itself is a great option. And there was one particular paragraph that jumped out at me in this article that is extremely useful for Chris and I as we further refine our operations (and not just because it was in New Britain):

"Our first stop was New Britain where nine cars were left.  A message was handed to the engineer before we pulled out.  By a message is meant a written order telling what to do at the next stop.  This one informed the engineer to pick up three cars at Plainville."

It may not seem like much, but remember that we are modeling an era prior to radios and cell phones. Work at each town won't necessarily be known when a train leaves the yard for a run. We know that they often receive such instructions when they reach town. But this confirms that they also receive orders as they are known, as I suspected.

As should be obvious, my approach to modeling is wholistic. Part of what I'm modeling is Operations, and like your scenery, structures, locomotives and rolling stock, it's often the little details that make the difference. This provides something of interest while operating, it highlights that this is pre-radio railroading, and serves as another tidbit of information that crews can learn about operations on the prototype simply by operating on your layout. 

This isn't the only detail that I found useful in this simple story of a reporter going for a cab ride, but I'll let you find what is of interest to you. Part of my goal is for experience of operating my layout to evoke the actual experience of operating on the prototype, and articles like this help me understand better how they operated back then.




 By Clarkson S. Barnes

A wave of the hand.  Two blasts from the whistle.  A slow chug, chug and the long train is off.

The scene is the Hartford freight yard on a Saturday morning not so long ago.  The time is 6:45 and the train is BO-5 a through freight from Boston to Maybrook, N.Y.

All of this is not so remarkable in itself.  The same scene takes place every morning at practically the same time.  But on this particular morning there were two passengers on board to whom the wave of the hand and blasts of the whistle meant a great deal.

One of these passengers was Leslie H. Tyler, special representative of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.  The other was the writer of this article.

Probably every boy or girl, sometime or other, has had the desire to ride in an engine, to ring the bell, to blow the whistle, to feed the fire and more than all of these, to hold the throttle.

With what longing eyes did we watch a locomotive as it started out from the station or gaze in open-mouthed wonder as a long train passed swiftly by at some crossing.  “Oh gee, if only I could be up there some time and really make her go,” we used to say.

Leaving Hartford Station

The wish to ride in a locomotive always stayed with me though perhaps the boyish glamour disappeared along with other youthful fancies.  Nevertheless, one person on BO-5 felt as though something pretty big were about to happen when the huge locomotive got under way that Saturday morning.

Slowly she pulled her train of 45 cars off the siding and onto the main line.  Through the tunnel under Main Street she chugged with smoke pouring into the cab.  Then the Hartford station was passed and BO-5 was on her way for sure.

The engine gathered speed once she hit the straight-away and soon was rolling along at a fair rate.  The engineer, Bill Barber and Fireman Bill Dow, were real railroad men.

Mr. Barber has been in the service of the New Haven road for 39 years.  It happened that the day of the trip was his 62nd birthday.

Our first stop was New Britain where nine cars were left.  A message was handed to the engineer before we pulled out.  By a message is meant a written order telling what to do at the next stop.  This one informed the engineer to pick up three cars at Plainville.

One of the Big Engines

Our engine was 3550, one of the ten largest locomotives on the New Haven system.  This is the regular engine for BO-5 and consequently both engineer and fireman are well acquainted with her and could sing her praises.

The automatic stoker saves the fireman from shoveling except at times when wants to place coal in certain places in the fire box.  A water heater near the front of the engine heats the water so that warm water rather than cold passes into the boiler.  So many valves and pressure gauges stare you in the face that the cab looks more like a Chinese puzzle than anything else to one un-accustomed to its intricacies.  Bill Dow, however, had no trouble manipulating the valves.

The symbols BO-5 refer to the starting point and destination of the train.  B refers to Boston and O is the symbol for Maybrook.  Such symbols are used on the all through freights on the New Haven.  The way the initials are placed shows the direction of the train.  Thus the corresponding train to BO-5 is OB-6.

When we left Plainville, I began to get real excited.  We were nearing Bristol, but in what a different way than generally.  I screwed up my courage and asked Bill Barber whether I might blow the whistle. “Sure,” he said. “Go ahead.”

How To Blow The Whistle

I reached over and started to pull down the lever, thinking the whistle would blow directly.  No sound.  Then I pulled a little more.  This time there was more of a squeak than a whistle.  “Pull,” yelled Bill.  Meanwhile the others in the cab were having a great laugh.  Finally I managed to get a good hold and pulled down with all my might, two longs and two shorts.  The next two crossings I used both hands and went at it with a vengeance.  There was no difficulty in hearing the whistle this time.

Soon we pulled into Bristol. I jumped off at the station and waited there while the engine crew switched 11 cars for the local yards. When the engine backed down I hopped on again and in a few minutes we left dear old Bristol far behind.

Waterbury was our next stop.  On the outskirts a collie ran out beside the train.  Bill said that this dog greets their train every day and runs along beside them, barking in great glee.  Here we left our whole train except the hack and one freight car.  “Hack” is railroad vernacular for caboose.  Mr. Tyler who had been riding in the caboose came up to the engine along with our Conductor George Whalley, brakeman, Mark Bourgeois, and flagman Ted Wiemer.

We left Waterbury at just 10 o’clock with a load of 2,785 tons, 75 cars.  We had a “double” out of Waterbury, that is to say two engines.  The second engine, 3105 was in the middle of the train.  The rea-son was the big grade out of Waterbury.

Single Track For A Ways

The road is single track all the way to Hawleyville and curves so much that only now and then could we catch sight of the “hack.”  The scenery is very pretty along this stretch of the route.  Soon after crossing the Housatonic at Sandy Hook we passed through a short narrow tunnel.  Bill told us to be sure to hold our handkerchiefs.  It’s a good thing for the heat and smoke were terrific.  If that tunnel were any long, we would have been stifled for sure.

Before going into the main line at Hawleyville, Mark had to call up the station agent to see whether it was all right to throw the switches.  Nothing was coming so we were given the right of way.  At Hawleyville we set off 23 cars of crushed stone.  3105 also left us here, returning to Waterbury dead-head.

After leaving Hawleyville the fire for the first and only time on the trip went low.  It took some clever manipulation and constant shoveling on Bill’s part to bring her back.  Soon, we were off to Danbury.  Here Mr. Tyler and I had our dinner while the crew did some switching.  These railroad men have no time to take off for food.  Their eating has to done along the line whenever they can see a chance to grab a bite.

Soon after leaving Danbury, we passed the Fair Grounds.  Not far from here Bill showed me where he hit an auto truck and shunted it into a little creek.  We crossed into New York State before long.  One of New York City’s huge reservoirs lies near the tracks.

We Take A Message On The Fly

By the time we reached Brewster our train was rolling along at a good clip.  Here, a message was handed to us on the fly.  To do this, the brakeman leans out from the cab and crooks his arm.  The message is attached to a three cornered stick which the station agent holds.  The brakeman catches the stick on his arm, takes off the message and throws the stick to the ground to be used next time, the whole transaction being done in the twinkling of an eye.

Not far from Brewster, Bill pointed out to us where a powder car blew up in a wreck last year, killing four men.  Houses were shattered and tress blown over.  Some of the damage has not yet been repaired.

Whaley Lake is a beautiful spot.  The track goes along beside it for nearly a mile.  About five miles further one of the most magnificent views of the whole journey was revealed.  Suddenly we emerged from a pass in the hills and could see spread out before us the whole panorama of Dutchess County with its beautiful farm lands, sparkling brooks, gently sloping hills and in the distance the majestic Catskills.  It was an entrancing moment.

We rolled downhill practically ten miles to our next stop.  Hopewell Junction, were we got coal and water and did about half an hour’s work.  We waited at Hopewell for 3227 and 3221 to pass us going west.  The orders for this procedure we received at Brewster.

We stayed for nearly an hour, from 2 until quarter of 3, so Les and I had a chance to stretch our legs.  3227 was directly in back of us.  In fact it had to stop when we took the siding.  We started to do our switching before 3221 showed up so this train also had a short wait on our account.

It wasn’t long after 3221 left us before we were on our way again.  Soon we reached Poughkeepsie. “Over there lies Vasser College,” said Bill Dow.  I evinced much interest.  “Vasser College?” I reiterated.  “Yes,” he said, “and it’s some school too.  Girls go there from all over the world.  We catch sight of some of them now and then.”

The Majestic Hudson

The big Poughkeepsie Bridge over the Hudson River soon loomed into view.  This bridge is 212 feet above mean high water mark and it surely looked it from the cab of the engine.  The bridge is single track.  We barely crawled.  The maximum speed over the bridge is 12 miles an hour.  Far below were the tracks of the New York Central, the streets of Poughkeepsie, the waterfront and the boats on the river.

The Great Moment Arrives

For just a few minutes Bill Barber allowed me to sit in his seat with my hand on the throttle, though he stayed right alongside, taking no chances.  I was finally driving an engine.  I could hardly believe my eyes but there I was, sure enough.  It was a straight stretch of track and the train was running nearly forty when I took her.  My left hand was on the throttle and my right on the sill of the cab.  I tried to appear as much like an engineer as possible.

When we came to a crossing, I blew the whistle and didn’t have to ask how this time.  Bill also showed me how to ring the bell.  This is not done by pulling a cord, but instead a little valve is turned which causes an air pump to push the bell up and down.  The bell rings constantly until the valve is shut off.

Bill resumed his seat as we came to a gradual downgrade and before long BO-5 was rolling along at fifty.  “Have to ease her off a bit,” yelled Bill.  This is done by pushing in the throttle.  You can’t do it all at once, but rather notch by notch.  It requires a good bit of elbow grease to move the throttle.

Gradually Bill pushed the throttle way back.  The train coasted under her own momentum for a number of miles, just as easily as a little go-cart coasts down the street.  It was great to look around and see the huge train of seventy-five cars all following so easily after the engine and knowing that for the time being, it was “your” train.

There is a big grade for a short distance after we cross the bridge, then it is practically a straight route 40 miles to Maybrook.  The country on the west side of the Hudson is much different from that on the east side.  The land is rolling with now and then an occasional hill.  It is all fruit growing country.  Vineyards stretch along for miles and there are numerous orchards of apple and peach trees.  The fruit growers in this section join together to form “Fruit-growers Co-operative Associations,” thus being able to obtain better prices for their products.  Bill Dow stated that this was one section where farmers made some money.

The End Of The Run

“We’re coming into Maybrook now,” said Bill a little later.  I thanked Bill for the big treat he had given me and told him that one of my lifelong ambitions had been attained.

Looking down the track I could see the huge freight yards of the Maybrook terminal.  We stopped before we reached the sidings so as to find out on what track to pull in.  Seven was the one we were told to take and slowly Bill pulled BO-5 onto the track.  The long train had reached her destination.  Soon the cars would be sent over the hump and distributed, later to be made into trains for the other railroads out of Maybrook.

After she had left her train, 3550 started for the roundhouse.  Her day’s work was done.  It was just 5 o’clock and according to Bill, we had made good time.

It was the end of the road and my train ride was over.  It was a real trip and there was much to be learned beside just the fun.  It taught me more about the railroad than I had ever known before.  How intricate are its workings and what a number of details there are to be looked after.  Think of all the towns and cities along the way that are served each day by this one train, and then consider all the trains on the system, and you can see how closely linked the railroad is with our daily life.

I became acquainted with the railroad men as I had never done before and they were as fine a bunch as I had ever met.  It was an experience that will never be forgotten.


1 comment:

  1. Just read your intro (and linked to it in my latest post which will post Saturday) and REALLY looking forward to sitting down in front of the fire - hopefully this evening - reading this article, and imagining being on BO-5 back in the late 1920s. Thanks for posting this - and Merry Christmas!